Site of japanware factory, Usk

Link to French translationSite of japanware factory, Usk

The yard behind the shop of builders merchant William Bunning was once home to a japanware factory, whose owner Evan Jones lived at the shop. It produced metal boxes, teapots, trays and other objects decorated with Japanese-style patterns on shiny black lacquer.

Builders and DIY enthusiasts can still buy black “japanned” screws. The “japanning” process was established in Pontypool in the late 17th century by Thomas Allgood. In the 19th century it was reported that he had travelled to a German factory which produced similar goods and feigned insanity to gain access and discover “the secret”!

After a dispute within the Allgood family, one group moved to Usk in 1763 and set up a factory in New Market Street (where the Abbeyfield home stands today). Up to 20 workers were employed there. Its products were generally regarded as superior to those from Pontypool because they usually featured golden butterflies. People from Usk were known as “butterflies”.

The Usk works’ customers included the Duke of Wellington, who led the victory over Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo, and French monarch Louis XVIII. It was already in decline when ironmonger Evan Jones bought it in 1826. He moved the factory to his premises (now Bunning’s yard) but was unable to stop its gradual decline in the face of cheaper japanware from the Birmingham area. Manufacture in Pontypool had ended in 1822.

The last Welsh japanware was advertised for sale locally in 1860 and 1862. Evan Jones died in March 1860, aged 70. In July 1862 the ironmongery business in Bridge Street was advertised for sale. The advert stated that “Original Pontypool Japan” had been manufactured on the premises for 40 years.

William Bunning was trading as an ironmonger in Bridge Street by the 1870s. The remains of the brick oven in which japanware was baked were demolished c.1975 when the business erected the yard’s easternmost storage shed.

With thanks to the late Geoffrey Mein, of Usk Civic Society

Postcode: NP15 1BQ    View Location Map

Pictures and more information on Usk japanware - Torfaen Museum Trust website